By Ronald E. Shaffer
Paper money in early America has the distinction of being the first authorized paper money issued by any government in the Western world. Bartering, the traditional mode of exchange, had become increasingly cumbersome. The only practical solution was a monetary system based on printed paper notes of credit.
Then along came the Revolutionary War which caused the small amount of gold and silver specie to disappear from circulation. Copper coins, the lowest minted denominations, were also withdrawn for use as a primary metal, leaving a scarcity of small coin exchange. Solution…print paper money in much lower denominations than had previously been authorized by various state assemblies. Pennsylvania printed bills as low as three pence. States authorized men of impeccable trust to sign paper money. Those buried at Old Pine include: Samuel Caldwell, Edward Fox, George Latimer, James McCrea, Andrew Pettit, Charles Risk, John Steel (who also made and supplied paper), Andrew Tybout, John Mease, John Patten and John Purviance. Lower denominations were signed and sequentially numbered in ink by one person. Multiple signers were required on higher denominations.
Desperate times led to desperate measures. Anyone who did not accept paper money was declared a traitor, an enemy or Tory. The English refused to permit Continental or State currency to circulate in areas its army occupied. The enemy used every means possible to undermine patriotic confidence. To further complicate trade, they resorted to economic warfare…counterfeiting.
During the eight year Revolution, Congress issued $241,552,780 of Continental currency. Its acceptance was a test of loyalty to the ideal of independence from England. Because of the substantial movement of people during the war, the circulation of mixed state currency along with Continental issues was common. Conversion notes changed daily. Value to purchase from one day to the next bordered on speculation. The U.S. monetary system was further aggravated when depreciation began in 1777. By 1778, one newspaper reported “paper money isn’t worth a Continental. People paper their rooms, light their pipes and use paper…for other conveniences.”
George Washington became caught up in currency fluctuation when he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. To prove his loyalty to the cause of liberty, he declined a 500 dollar per month salary and insisted on being paid in full for all his expenses when his appointment ended. (What a clever man.) In addition to being reimbursed for actual expenses he charged the government 6% annum interest. Had he agreed to a salary he would have received $48,000. Instead, the payment amounted to $449,261.57. Washington took a big risk to become Commander-in-Chief. He would have lost a lot of money if England won…a moot point…he would have been hanged as a traitor! He made every sacrifice to achieve liberty, except one…reducing his standard of living!
I thought you might be enlightened to learn Washington’s military expense account begins and ends with two Old Pine connections. (Both men are buried in our westside graveyard.) The first expense entry is dated June 1, 1775…”to purchase five horses (two of which were had on credit from Mr. James Mease) to equip me for my journey to the Army at Cambridge & for the service I was then going upon – having sent my chariot and horses back to Virginia.” [James Mease, a Philadelphia merchant later served as Commissary to the Pennsylvania troops. He eventually became Clothier-General of the Continental Army.]
Washington’s last expense entry was July 1, 1783. He turned his eight years of recording expenses over to the Treasury Department headed by Alexander Hamilton who passed the auditing task on to James Milligan, Auditor General of the U.S. Treasury where the records were gone over with a “fine tooth comb.” Result…a discrepancy of 89/90 of one dollar more was found due Washington. [Milligan, a very wealthy merchant, was appointed by the Continental Congress on July 25, 1775 to sign Continental currency. He became Commissioner of Account in 1777, and, in 1781, Comptroller General of the U.S. Treasury.]
Yes, it’s all about money and 13 buried at Old Pine…who left a paper trail in their footsteps of history.